The Great Pong: Gas leak in Rouen, France, leaves foul-smelling cloud of gas wafting over southern England

Emergency services inundated with concerned phone calls

We can’t call it The Great Stink.  That name’s taken.  It refers to the summer of 1858 in London, when the smell of poo and other unmentionables coming from the Thames was so bad that Parliament had to stop sitting, and a whole new sewer system was commissioned. But we could perfectly well call it The Great Pong.

Click HERE to view graphic

For it was definitely a pong – a pong of rotten eggs, most people said, although less delicate souls used the word farts – and it was most certainly great, yesterday blanketing much of southern England like a weather system, a smell so prominent and so unpleasant that people called their local fire brigade, or the National Grid, in their tens of thousands.

And guess what? It came from France, zis Great Pong.  What was it then, you foul-smelling Froggies?  The stench of one of your giant rotten cheeses, hein?  The whiff of a colossal clove of your unspeakable garlic? Alas, nothing so picturesque. 

It was a gas cloud which had escaped from a factory in Rouen in Normandy, and the gas was mercaptan, which is added to odour-free natural gas so that gas escapes can be detected, as its own odour (although the gas is harmless) is among the most powerful of all – detectable in concentrations as tiny as one part in 2.8 billion.

They certainly thought so in Rouen – it so affected things in the city that last night’s football match between Rouen and Olympique Marseille had to be postponed – and they certainly thought so on this side of the Channel, when the gas cloud had drifted across.

“It's disgusting. It's just like gone-off egg. Absolutely disgusting. What is it?” said Susan Smith, as she shepherded her deliriously laughing children through the barriers at Redhill Station in Surrey. “It's from France? They don't even like eggs do they? I'm supposed to be doing beef bourguignon tonight. That's put me right off.” Too right, Susan!  You don’t need to bugger up good English beef with fancy Froggie sauces!

People in coastal towns in Kent and Sussex noticed it first, then by mid-afternoon the mind-boggling pong  had spread not only through Surrey to Greater London, but out across the country in a wide arc, with reports coming in from Oxfordshire and even as far north as Northampton in the East Midlands, and Dorset in the West.

People feared a gas leak which might be really dangerous. The National Grid, which would normally deal with up to 10,000 calls countrywide in a day, was inundated with more than 100,000 calls by 2pm. A spokesman said it was an "unprecedented" volume. Fire brigades were also faced mass inquisitions. London Fire Brigade tweeted, on its official twitter account: “Listen carefully I shall say zis in only 140 characters; we attended 42 calls today due to the French gas cloud over London alloallo”

The Health Protection agency offered reassurance. “It is an unpleasant odour which may cause some people to feel slightly nauseous but it is not toxic and will dispel naturally,” the HPA said in a statement.

According to the French interior ministry, the factory at the centre of the leak is owned by Lubrizol, a subsidiary of investor Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway group; there was no word last night on the cause of the leak.

That’s if it did come from the factory.  Maybe they’re just saying that, the Froggies. For who knows what devilish giant cheese they might actually have developed?

Who knows how big a clove of garlic might actually get, once they put their minds to it?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own